- Nothing Ever (Could Separate Us)
- All Things
- Should’ve Been Me
- Lights On
- How Sweet the Sound
- Fall Like Rain
- Love is a Mess
- Where Would I Be Without You
- Sing, Sing, Sing
A recent signing to Fair Trade Services after being a band since 2004, the two sets of brothers that comprise of Citizen Way are yet another new band to release an album in 2013. It’s a hard act to follow when you release an album after other new artists like Capital Kings, Colton Dixon, Finding Favour and JJ Weeks Band, all of which have become popular critically and commercial since their release dates. Yet these four men from Elgin, Illinois have indeed given us an album that will be popular amongst many CCM enthusiasts and radio stations alike, and as a listener to this album, I would’ve enjoyed it for the most part. However, the reviewer within me can’t help but pick out a lack of lyrical creativity on a few tracks, even if it wasn’t the band’s honest intention. With so many album releases each and every week, one can only purchase so much, and if I were to see if I was going to part with the money or not, I don’t necessarily think that I would. Not to discount the band’s genuine passion, because it’s all there (even some great tracks like ‘Should’ve Been Me’ and ‘Nothing Ever (Could Separate Us)’), however, when comparing this album to others from Hawk Nelson, Kerrie Roberts, Meredith Andrews and Audio Adrenaline; this album feels more ‘cookie-cutter’ CCM rather than an album I can be totally amazed about. A tad over half an hour in length and a few songs less than 3 minutes each; the band’s choice to use similar thematic elements across the album, as well as giving us songs with themes similar to other songs by other artists (that have been delivered with greater poignancy and passion) is something that will tear down the project within the long run. While a few songs are good, the whole album is somewhat of a let-down in general, with repetitious guitar hooks and lines that are repeated time and time again a technique that, while meant to bring in listeners, I sense it could do the opposite even if it wasn’t their initial plan to. With the album releasing on the same day as Martin Smith’s God’s Great Dance Floor Step 1 and All Sons and Daughters’ Live; Citizen Way is sure to improve over the years as I listen to album that is a solid release, yet doesn’t receive anything higher than a 3/5 due to a certain lack of originality and lyrical poignancy on a few songs that can only improve with every subsequent album release.
‘Should’ve Been Me’ was released as a radio single to iTunes and other media outlets during 2012, and is perhaps one of my personal favourite tracks on the album, even though the song stands at 2:53 in length. With hand claps and an ‘ooohh’ backing vocal, lead singer Ben Calhoun gives us a great reminder of how sometimes we can slip back into the routine of being a Christian as we attend worship, place our money in the offering, and even hear an inspiring sermon; when our understanding, knowledge, and revelation of Jesus’ death and resurrection hasn’t really fully impacted us yet. Confronting as we search our own lives to fully grasp that it ‘…should’ve been me, should’ve been us, should’ve been there hanging on a cross…’; Citizen Way uses an acoustic musical element to present to us one of my favourite songs from a breakout band in 2012. A song of thankfulness and realisation of Christ’s grace unending, ‘Should’ve Been Me’ stands out to be one of my favourite songs over this past year, from a band that will gain great respect and popularity from the CCM community. With the song portraying honesty at it’s rawest as all we can say is thanks for a deed we know we can’t repay; the first single gave me great interest into listening to the album. Sadly, the rest of the tracks don’t necessarily live up to the hype and musical and lyrical quality set by the first single. Despite this, the song is still great on its own, perhaps one of the front runners for Song of the Year at the 2013 Dove Awards. Well done Citizen Way for a fantastic song that is probably one of the only bright spots on an otherwise album that sadly dissipates in comparison to many other favourite and strong releases throughout the year of 2013!
‘Nothing Ever (Could Separate Us)’ is the band’s first single to be released in 2013, and first to promote the release of the new album in April 2013. Together with ‘Should’ve Been Me’, we are shown a heartfelt moment of clarity as Ben declares that nothing can separate us from God’s immense and immeasurable love through great guitar work and a riveting keyboard undertone. Full of an energetic atmosphere as Ben places on his ‘Mat Kearney’ hat with some vocal moments during the song emulating the pop-folk artist; the first track that brings listeners into Love is the Evidence is a classic reminder of what pop-rock should be like- if the song isn’t catchy, edgy, or doesn’t do its best to bring the listeners into the album as a whole, it probably shouldn’t be there as the first track, or even on the album at all. While there is some somewhat annoying repetition in the chorus where Ben boldly proclaims that ‘…nothing ever can separate us (x3)…now…’; the concept is something us listeners need to grasp and the repetition can be easily forgiven and not seen as a lack of ingenuity on the songwriter’s part but rather as a great ‘plot device’ to keep listeners hooked and interested as the repetitious lyrics are flooded with keyboards, xylophones, guitars and a powerful vocal from Ben. While ‘Nothing Ever (Could Separate Us)’ is one of the better tracks on the album, the same repetitious technique employed in ‘Where Would I Be Without You’ has created a song that for me personally is on the opposite end, with listening to the song being a feat that I would describe as painful, trying, ‘ever-hopeful that the song would spark something great within me yet not surprised that it didn’t’, as well as after this track possibly losing hope that the remainder of the album can ever live up to ‘Should’ve Been Me’ and ‘Nothing Ever (Could Separate Us)’ again. The gang vocals and the explosive guitars cannot make up for the unoriginal chorus of the song that declares ‘…where would I be without you…’. Repeating it three times and calling it a chorus is sadly inexcusable, especially from a band that has been together since 2004. So much time (8 years) resulting in lyrics that many (including myself) could conceive as being written within a ten minute time period; watching a video about how many generic worship songs are written has either tainted or opened up my eyes and ears to become critical of the song-writing process of almost every album I listen to, even though I know that me judging can seem a little harsh considering that the band probably spends a great amount of time in creating the songs. Even so, ‘Where Would I Be Without You’ is a still a great concept even though it wasn’t as executed as I thought it could’ve been, and a theme for all of us to ponder, asking the question as we thank God for His overwhelming presence in our everyday lives.
‘All Things’ starts off with a ‘ohhh’ backing vocal moment and some light keyboard riffs as Ben paints a scenario where the persona meets a woman down on her luck, and has an epiphany moment where he understands that in all things, we give thanks to the God who uses all the moments to shape us into the godly men and women we are becoming; and while the song is true in that God does use everything that occurs for our good and His glory, I’m not sure if that’s something someone would want to hear who’s in that circumstance. While fun, light, bubbly and joyous, ‘All Things’ in particular wouldn’t be a song to play to someone who’s far away from God- stating the obvious, that God uses everything for our good may in fact drive them further away. Nevertheless, this light track clearly reminds us of God’s involvement in our very lives, whilst ‘Fall Like the Rain’ presents an acoustic-type melody with a simple lyrical message of encouragement, that ‘…there’s a plan and a purpose no matter how you feel…and when you fall like the rain, you’re gonna rise like the sun…’ Though each of the songs shine musically, with the band employing a great amount of unique musical instruments; the lyrical messages of virtually every single song seem familiar, and whilst it could be great for a seasoned veteran because listeners know the reputation of the artist, a debut album release with a conglomeration of musical ingeniousness coupled with lyrical themes that seem so similar that much of these songs seem to fade into each other is not a great sign. ‘Fall Like the Rain’, whilst great in its musical direction, seems to pale lyrically in comparison to other thematically similar songs, namely Steven Curtis Chapman’s heartfelt song ‘Beauty Will Rise’, also talking about beauty coming out of situations that seem dire and hopeless. Nevertheless, a great effort by the band to conjure up 10 melodies that bring the listener comfort and hope, both ‘All Things’ and ‘Fall Like the Rain’ are decent pop songs destined to be enjoyed by many Citizen Way enthusiasts, even if in a few years they could be forgettable and replaced by other more explosive, emotive, enjoyable and energetic albums and bands that could be up and coming within the next year.
‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ is as acoustic as they come, with a lot of acoustic guitars and keyboards and great for anyone who wants to listen for listening sake, or to just sit quietly and thereby dance in spirit. However, lyrically the song seems a little bit contrived, unimaginative, even sounding a carbon copy (not a great one) of Chris Tomlin’s ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, a much superior song musically and lyrically, as we compare the joyous beats and riveting anthemic moments of Chris Tomlin’s song when compared to the mellowness of the last track on Love is The Evidence. The title track ‘Evidence’ speaks about being the proof of the love of Christ to the world as we understand that the love within us and shown to everyone we meet is the evidence of Christ working within and through us; and while a tad over 3 minutes and the theme reminding me of for KING AND COUNTRY’s ‘Proof of Your Love’, vocalist Ben Calhoun provides us with a heartfelt song that’s great to listen to and declare along with as the song is added to a music playlist for long road trip journeys. ‘Love is a Mess’ describes the crucifixion and sacrifice of Jesus to a tee, and while the song is great, humble and poignant, with many songs, inclusive of Steven Curtis Chapman’s ‘How Love Wins’ and Carman’s ‘This Blood’ showcasing poignant moments in relation to the iconic moment in Jesus’s life; this song presented to us by Citizen Way, while poetic and hopeful and full of intense musical moments including strings and keyboards, doesn’t seem to carry with it the same emotion and hope that the other two similar themed songs seem to have and possess. ‘How Sweet the Sound’ is a unique interpretation of ‘Amazing Grace’ with a similar message and theme to ‘Where Would I Be Without You’ and ‘Nothing Ever (Could Separate Us)’, as we are met with the notion of God carrying us through all circumstances, while one of my favourites (alongside ‘Nothing Ever (Could Separate Us)’ and ‘Should’ve Been Me’) is ‘Lights On’; a electronic influenced song about how God switches in the lights inside of us to the unchanging and ever-loving character of Himself through the revelations of creation and the world around us.
Overall: From hurt to comfort, pain to praise, Citizen Way’s debut album is somewhat of as mixed bag. While some may enjoy the album tremendously and claim that it is their favourite album of the year so far; my outlook on the album is somewhat more towards the middle of the road, rather than veering off in either one direction (disappointment) or another (praise). From highlights like ‘Should’ve Been Me’, ‘Lights On’ and ‘Nothing Ever’ to the underwhelming ‘Where Would I Be Without You’ and ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’; this album will certainly divide many listeners, some declaring the band’s problems while others exalting the songs they have choreographed and produced poignantly. Nevertheless, with the album being a debut one, I have given the it 3/5- the promise within the two singles have indeed carried the score over from a two to a three, with hopefully more improvement from the band in subsequent releases in the future. If you’re a fan of contemporary pop from artists like Big Daddy Weave, Aaron Shust, Mikeschair or Sidewalk Prophets; then this album will be a welcomed gift to you. Well done Citizen Way for an album that, while it does have its mishaps, issues and drama, is far from unfixable with a great amount of potential to improve upon in years to come!
RIYL: Big Daddy Weave, Sidewalk Prophets, Aaron Shust, Mikeschair